An article on Amaran, the unmanned robotic coconut tree climber and harvester, developed at the Humanitarian Technology (HuT) Labs of the Department of Electronics and Communication Engineering (ECE), School of Engineering, Amrita Vishwa Vidyapeetham, Amritapuri campus, was published in the world-renowned IEEE Spectrum magazine, a flagship magazine of IEEE. This is the first-ever article from Amrita to be published in IEEE Spectrum. The article is titled "Amaran the Tree-Climbing Robot Can Safely Harvest Coconuts".
IEEE Spectrum is the flagship magazine of the IEEE, the world’s largest professional organization devoted to engineering and the applied sciences. Below are excerpts from the article:
Coconuts may be delicious and useful for producing a wide range of products, but harvesting them is no easy task. Specially trained harvesters must risk their lives by climbing trees roughly 15 meters high to hack off just one bunch of coconuts. A group of researchers in India has designed a robot, named Amaran, that could reduce the need for human harvesters to take such a risk. But is the robot up to the task?
The researchers describe the tree-climbing robot in a paper published in the latest issue of IEEE/ASME Transactions on Mechatronics. Along with lab tests, they compared Amaran’s ability to harvest coconuts to that of a 50-year-old veteran harvester. Whereas the man bested the robot in terms of overall speed, the robot excelled in endurance.
Rajesh Kannan Megalingam, an Assistant Professor at Amrita Vishwa Vidyapeetham University, in South India, says his team has been working on Amaran since 2014. “No two coconut trees are the same anywhere in the world. Each one is unique in size, and has a unique alignment of coconut bunches and leaves. So, building a perfect robot is an extremely challenging task,” he explained.
“Our ultimate aim is to commercialize this product and to help coconut farmers. In Kerala state, there are only 7,000 trained coconut tree climbers, whereas the requirement is about 50,000 trained climbers. The situation is similar in other states in India like Tamil Nadu, Andhra, and Karnataka, where coconut is grown in large numbers,” said Megalingam.
He acknowledged that the current cost of the robot is a barrier to broader deployment, but noted that community members could pitch together to share the costs and utilization of the robot. Most importantly, he noted, “Coconut harvesting using Amaran does not involve risk for human life. Any properly trained person can operate Amaran. Usually, only male workers take up this tree climbing job. But Amaran can be operated by anyone irrespective of gender, physical strength and skills.”